Spending years and years in the shadow of someone who's bigger, faster and dominant in every way can breed the kind of competitive spark that's hard to extinguish. Just ask the women representing the United States in the World Cup.

Seventeen of the team's 23 players -- or 74 percent -- have older brothers and sisters, according to a report in the New York Times. To put that number into perspective, 43 percent of American families with children have just one child, according an analysis of U.S. Census data by The Daily Beast.

Jeré Longman, author of the Times' article, offered a theory as to why later-born children make it to the upper echelons of their profession. Older brothers and sisters are often the ones who introduce their younger siblings to a sport, he says. 

Those younger children have to work extra hard to match their older, bigger brothers' and sisters' abilities. As a result, these later-born children develop skills -- and an preference for competition -- beyond their years. 

Whether a similar sibling effect carries over to the world of business is a natural question, considering that many CEOs are every bit as competitive as top athletes. 

A 2009 Kauffman Foundation study of more than 500 founders suggests that later-born children also rise to the occasion in business. The paper, "The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation," found that entrepreneurs' average birth order was 2.2. 

A 1992 study of entrepreneurs pointed out that past research has largely supported the theory that first-born children were more likely to be entrepreneurs. As a followup, the researchers carried their own study, which they said better controlled for variables like socio-economic status and education levels. The study concluded that there is no relationship between entrepreneurship and birth order. 

Ben Dattner, a business consultant and professor at New York University, agrees that there is no one birth order slot that predisposes someone to becoming an entrepreneur. However, he does think that birth order is responsible for specific qualities that great leaders possess. 

For example, first born children tend to be assertive, disciplined and skilled at executing a plan, Dattner told Bloomberg. "Second-borns have a lot of the classic entrepreneur personality traits: They're creative, risk-taking, flexible, and more likely to embrace new paradigms than first-borns are," he says.

That said, second-borns will often work with first-borns who are more skilled at translating ideas to reality, Dattner says, suggesting that there's just as much room for collaboration as there is competition.

What do you think? Is the sibling effect real? Tell us in the comments section.

Published on: Jun 15, 2015